from Film Forum, 04/24/03
Remember the New Christy Minstrels? Remember their matching Technicolor outfits? Remember how different their idea of folk music was from the likes of Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul, and Mary? If so, you're likely to have a deeper appreciation of the week's funniest new comedy—A Mighty Wind.
The comedies of Christopher Guest—Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and this quirky little project—are unique in that most of their hilarious moments happen in improvisation between the talented comedians who reappear in each film. They have quick wits and flair for the unexpected and outrageous. Together, they are a volatile team. A Mighty Wind features Guest, Harry Shearer, and Michael McKean (both of whom worked with Guest in Rob Reiner's This is Spinal Tap), Parker Posey, Ed Begley Jr., Bob Balaban, Fred Willard, Catherine O'Hara, the hilarious Jennifer Coolidge, and the wonderful Eugene Levy. Together, they have cooked up a memorable "mockumentary" about a nostalgia-driven concert of '60s-era folk music.
Critics everywhere are celebrating the film's arrival as a breath of fresh air in a climate of stifling and crass comedies. There is a unique tone to Guest's films. The satire is sometimes loud and sharp-edged and sometimes subtle and thought-provoking. The acting feels like well-rehearsed live theatre.
Unfortunately, Mighty Wind is also overstuffed with unnecessary sex-oriented monologues and punchlines. One particularly sleazy character get laughs by talking about her past exploits, giving us more information than we needed or wanted to know. None of the comedy glorifies sexual impropriety, but the jokes become tiresome, and it seems like the actors are too often taking the easy way to a laugh. Where Best in Show and Guffman had me aching with laughter, Mighty Wind had me wincing with its relentless off-color comedy. (My full review is at Looking Closer.)
J. Robert Parks (The Phantom Tollbooth), on the other hand, found more to enjoy in this movie. "As Spinal Tap did so many years ago with heavy metal, A Mighty Wind is pitch-perfect in its skewering of folk. Unlike Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman, which delighted in screaming matches and on-stage meltdowns, A Mighty Wind is much kinder to its characters, more sensitive to their travails. The movie is even touching in places. This makes for a softer brand of comedy; it's less a bust-out-loud-laughing movie and more a smile-on-your-face film."
"I enjoyed this kinder, gentler Guest film," says Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films), "though at times I thought the satire could have been more pointed. Guest seems closer to his subject matter this time around than in previous efforts, and Mighty Wind is his most affectionate, least satiric film. The improvisational humor is hit and miss. Some gags feel like a setup for a punchline that never comes, and some of the kookiness is just kooky without being particularly humorous. When it clicks, though, it can be really funny."
Michael Medved (Crosswalk) says, "There's no tension and little energy. Nevertheless, the movie provides frequent laughs—especially when Levy, with his soulful lost dog demeanor, dominates the screen."
Don Patton with Lisa Rice (Movieguide) says, "Guest and … Levy have a great talent at poking fun at self-important people, especially people who take too seriously a hobby or otherwise silly distraction making it the center of their world in a way that they believe everyone should agree with their excitement and in turn share the obsession." But looking at the overall results, they conclude, "The humor wasn't quite fresh enough."